I’ve never been in a parade before. And Sunday, I not only marched, but carried a flag! I joined the Road to Freedom Walk in Dobbs Ferry, up the Hudson in New York. You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to be asked to carry a flag! This only after asking everyone around me, and they had run out of children. I was the only female flag bearer. Woo hoo!
And what a flag it was! The “Join or Die” logo came from a political cartoon created by Benjamin Franklin in 1754. It shows a snake cut into 9 parts, each labeled with a colony, except for the four New England colonies, simply labeled N.E. Maybe there wasn’t room in the cartoon to name each colony. I don’t know.
But it became a famous symbol of the need for the colonies to unite, instead of act in their own interests, despite failing as a rallying mantra for the French and Indian War. It was resuscitated for the Revolutionary War and stuck.
The other flags included the 1775 Commander in Chief flag, the Bunker Hill flag shown here, with its pine tree coming to symbolize liberty in New England, and a prototypical “Betsy Ross” flag with 13 stars in a circle.
But the purpose of this march was to commemorate the August 19, 1781 route taken by the Continental Army, as it began its 400 mile march to Virginia to encounter Cornwallis.
We marched about 1 mile. Multiply that times 400, and it might not have been as much fun. But like any good march, there was mud. There was a fife and drum setting the mood to move. I found it really easy to walk to the beat, as you might can pick out from this video.
What’s important is the men I’m marching behind. They are the 1st Rhode Island, a majority African American regiment who formed in the summer of 1778, fought at Saratoga, and made the long march to Virginia.
I pushed up with my flag to march right behind them. They marched in all seriousness. I had a silly, delighted grin on my face. Policemen stopped traffic and saluted. It was good.
During our breaks, as the soldiers wiped their brows (it was hot for them in their uniforms, even as they were a bit tattered providing natural ventilation), they argued over rum rations and whether rum was the “devil’s drink” or a “likeable thing” and how sugar was tied to slavery. “You don’t like that, do you?” They teased one of the cohort for being from Dela-where? I interjected that I liked Delaware. “That makes two of you,” another shot back.
As we marched on, the fife picked out tunes the soldiers knew, and they sang along. They changed the lyrics of “Yankee Doodle” to say something about George Washington being one in a million. Maybe that’s how the lyrics went before George Cohan et al.
We paused in a cemetery where Revolutionary and Civil War veterans are buried. The soldiers fired their muskets in salute, as you can see in these videos.
What is clear is how much slower battle would have been and the need for two lines of soldiers. You can make out how tedious it was to load from the second video.
The fife and drum led us right through the historic town center and into the woods, following an aqueduct. We marched over rocks and stumps, but mostly on a nice sandy path. The temperature, already pleasant, dropped with the shade. We soldiered on, up hills, up and up, until we reached the launching point, coinciding with the end of the aqueduct.
Our hard work earned us lemonade and cookies. As I furled up the flag, I tried the cranberry drink, mixed with tea. So good. Then one of the soldiers and I sat under a tree, while a commemoration took place.
He took an offered slice of watermelon, lamenting he had no beer to go with it. “Sounds awful…sweet and bitter!” He just grinned. I asked about the holes in his trousers. “I earned these through the march,” he explained. “Not as bad as some others.”
I knew just what he meant. There I was in a “you were there” moment.